Recently my love was talking about some regular local event we’d never gotten to. Over bagels my love drew the analogy, “It’s like they say. You live in New York, but you never go to the E — ” and here tripped a little on lunch, to resume with “to the Eiffel tower.” This quite normal tongue-slipping inspired in me an oppressive series of follow-ups. Some of them include: “You know, you live in Tokyo, but do you ever see the Great Pyramid of Giza?” “You live in Paris, but how often do you go to the Golden Gate Bridge?” “Sure you’re from Boston, but do you ever visit Angor Wat?” And then there was “Yeah, you live in the 1960s, but do you ever stop in on V-E Day except when company’s visiting?” My love has accepted this in good stead and I’m working on turning that last joke into a Nebula-award-winning short story and disappointing movie starring several of Hollywood’s leading explosions.
But this does look like a real problem. It’s not an urgent one, like potholes or the disappearance of the cheap water crackers from the supermarket. Still it feels like something that needs explanation, and solution. Every place has stuff: museums, festivals, parks, novel concepts in restaurant experiences, ridiculous home-grown sporting contests. When we go anywhere by choice we spend the whole time running around them. This even though we could have done the same stuff while staying at home. You know home. It’s where we don’t have to find the cable TV channels and the bed isn’t next to a giant wedge of hotel art. What goes on here?
Don’t try saying that we can’t have these kinds of experiences at home. Every place has museums. And the details are different, sure, but every museum is still a museum. It’s a string of white-walled rooms with uncomfortable benches in the center. Each room has just enough doors that you can’t be sure which way to go. Somewhere in the distance you hear an approaching gaggle of squealing kids. There’s a couple rooms with mannequins set up to reenact a scene that maybe never happened.
Or else you’re in one of those interactive experiential museums. There every room has TV screens and garish, underlit walls. They have theremins that might not be turned on. You can’t tell. You might just not be working them right. There’s blocks on wires that you can move along to model how nerves or the phosphorous cycle or TCP/IP packets work. There you can see the kids. They’re running between you and your blocks on wires over to the Hall of Optical Illusions. There they punch one another and get yelled at to be quiet. An audio recording someone started by pressing a button finishes eighty seconds after the audience left.
We’ve all been there, in every city we might visit. It’s a fine experience. I can’t get enough of it. But the only difference going to a famous museum in some other city is you might have heard of the thing you’re trying to look at. If you have heard of it, you know about what you should see from looking at it. If you haven’t heard of it, how would you know the difference?
And you can go to any festival or fair or sporting event or whatnot and have fun. You can have actual fun yourself or keep an ironic distance from all the people you assume are there having actual fun. And somewhere in your neighborhood is a restaurant where you have to sit through an explanation of their concept. Their concept is “restaurants made hard”. You don’t have to go to Chicago, if you’re not from Chicago, for that if you want.
But we don’t want. The point of going home is being where we don’t want to do anything. Home is a place for dressing so we won’t be seen, for slouching, eating processed foods that are neither the color nor flavor of anything found in nature, and for not being wanted by anybody for anything. Going out is for emotional and intellectual engagement. When we go home, it’s to be where we don’t have to put any energy into having an experience. Home is the place where, when you go there, nobody feels bad that you’re bored.
Your home town is an extension of this. It’s the place where you don’t have to feel anything about anything but when they’re going to fix the pothole on the offramp that messes up your drive every time. And when they do, it offends you because the street repairs mess up your drive in a different way. If you did all the stuff in your home town, where would you go to get out of the house and feel bored?
And only the rubes go to V-E Day anymore. It’s too full of people trying to turn it into something marketable. If you have to visit some era, pick something that’s still home, such as a week ago Tuesday. It may not be flashy. But you know where the gaggles of screaming kids don’t go. And the tourists haven’t found it yet.